Today, all of us at Stonewall are celebrating RSE Day. If you haven’t heard of it before, that’s OK! RSE Day was created two years ago by Nottingham City Council and now, with the support of the Sex Education Forum, it seeks to improve the quality of relationships and sex education provided for children and young people by highlighting best practice in this area.
RSE is a subject very close to our hearts here. We were founded back in 1989 to oppose Section 28 – the devastating law that banned local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’.
Without any recognition or inclusion, and with teachers essentially banned from reprimanding those used anti-LGBT language, bullying flourished and scarred a generation of young people. Schools couldn’t even acknowledge our existence, let alone talk about the challenges we faced.
The struggle to repeal Section 28 took years and Stonewall was there every step of the way. It only left the statute books in 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in England and Wales.
The damaging impact of this legislation is still felt in school hallways and classrooms across Britain. Stonewall’s 2017 research showed that two in five (40 per cent) of LGBT students are never taught anything about LGBT issues.
Our 2020 Shut Out report also revealed how unwelcoming school environments can contribute to young LGBT people not being in education, employment or training.
Teaching about LGBT families not only means children from these families see themselves reflected in what they learn, but also helps all young people understand that there’s nothing wrong or unusual about being LGBT.
For years, Stonewall’s Education and Youth team has worked to bring lasting change to education institutions and wider children and young people’s services.
Our aim is to create LGBT-inclusive environments, free from anti-LGBT language and bullying. It’s through our School & College Champions Programme that we provide LGBT-inclusive research, resources and guidance for schools and colleges and work with staff and students alike to help them understand what steps they can take to celebrate difference in their hallways and classrooms.
We know this work is absolutely vital as nearly half of LGBT young people (45 per cent) are still bullied for being themselves in school, while the majority of LGBT pupils (86 per cent) regularly hear language like ‘that’s so gay’ in school.
What makes this year’s RSE day extra special for us is that we’re coming to the end of our decades-long campaign to get an inclusive education system in England.
New regulations for RSE in English schools were due to come into force by September 2020, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been delayed, where schools will now be expected to have begun this teaching by the start of the 2021 Summer term.
When this happens it will be the dawning of a new era – a whole generation will attend schools that not only accept LGBT people and same-sex relationships, but also celebrate and offer support on the issues that young LGBT people face.
By teaching about LGBT families in primary Relationships Education and building on this work in secondary RSE, schools are helping prepare young people for life in 21st century Britain
However, we should be under no illusions that this all will be plain sailing and there won’t be groups trying to derail progress.
A vocal minority seek to spread misinformation and play on old-fashion fears that ‘impressionable’ young people will be influenced if LGBT issues are discussed openly. Today and every day moving forward, we must be vigilant to this and re-affirm the importance of this teaching.
Inclusive teaching is an affirmation that you exist, and that your identity is valid. It’s about acceptance for people from all backgrounds – be that race, gender, sexual orientation, faith, class and/or disability.
Inclusive education helps to create inclusive communities. If all schools teach acceptance – no exceptions- then that would be a good first step to heal some of the division that we’ve seen in society over the past decade.